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Getting to know you

Being a neighbor is more than a condition; it’s a calling

David, Stacey, and Lauren Burton stand outside their home. Photo by Lauren Dunn

Getting to know you

David Burton was working in his garage on a Tuesday evening in March when his 5-year-old neighbor, Noah Crawford, showed up in his driveway to show him his hammer. Noah’s mom, Tara, explained that Noah had hurried over to David’s garage as soon as he knew he was outside. “He’s welcome anytime,” David said, turning to Noah.

Shane and Tara Crawford and their three children moved to the house across the street from the Burtons in May 2021, but they met David even before they closed on the house, often texting him with questions about area schools, utilities, or lawn mowing. “He was always responsive,” Shane said. “Even late at night, he would send me these lengthy responses with all the information we needed.”

Their friendship with the Crawfords is one of the many relationships David and his wife, Stacey, have worked to cultivate in their Stoney Creek Estates neighborhood in Republic, Mo. David, Stacey, and their two kids—since grown—moved to the neighborhood about 12 miles southwest of Springfield roughly 18 years ago.

The Burtons attend Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Springfield, where David is a deacon. For years, they thought of themselves as good neighbors—no loud parties and they kept their yard in good shape, David pointed out. But in the summer of 2019, he realized how low he had set the bar after his pastor preached about being a neighbor and David read The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave ­Runyon.

“We only knew the names of two of [our neighbors],” David realized. He and Stacey knocked on their neighbors’ doors, armed with homemade chocolate chip cookies, a family photo with David’s contact information, and an intention to be better neighbors.

We only knew the names of two of our neighbors.

Soon David began turning other ideas into action. He invited neighbors to gather at the Burtons’ driveway for what he called a “driveway chat.” The idea was as simple as it sounds: Neighbors brought their lawn chairs once a month during the summer to a designated driveway to talk. David said the first driveway chat took place on a rainy evening, and only six people showed up. But Stacey was hesitant about some of David’s efforts, especially when his ideas conflicted with family time with their children.

Stacey’s lightbulb moment came when a neighbor who had resisted their efforts stopped David on his walk one day. He asked David to pray for him, adding that he thought David was a man of prayer. “There’s ministry here,” Stacey realized.

After a church ladies’ event, Stacey decided to host and lead a small group study for women in Republic for five weeks, beginning on a Monday night this past January. Many of the women were meeting each other for the first time and learned that they all lived within about a mile of the Burtons’ house.

After those five weeks, the women started a new study. Stacey said they will take the summer off but plan to jump back in this fall.

Tara Crawford also attends Stacey’s Bible study. Shane and Tara both say that the ministry of “neighboring” is new to them and that they’re still learning: Shane said he may host the neighborhood’s upcoming pingpong league.

Shane and Tara’s children, Noah, along with Ella, 8, and Myah, 10, are looking forward to another Fourth of July event. Last year they decorated their bikes in hopes of winning a cash prize. “The winner was a dog,” Noah said.

This year, David said the city is providing a sound system and portable toilets for the event and police officers and firefighters to lead the parade.

He also incorporated some changes that parents and other attendees suggested last time: offering participation and placing ribbons instead of cash prizes, adding a separate pets category, and starting the parade an hour later in the day. David doesn’t know yet how many children will participate.

But whether activities are well received or not, or events are well attended or not, David said neighboring is more about an attitude. “It’s the … ministry of being available: You have to have some margin in your life and to be able to linger at the mailbox a little longer, to be willing to be interrupted on a walk, to be able to visit with someone,” he said. “But it just takes a little time. … It’s a slow-cook process for sure.”

Lauren Dunn

Lauren covers education for WORLD’s digital, print, and podcast platforms. She is a graduate of Thomas Edison State University and World Journalism Institute. She lives with her family in Wichita, Kan.


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